Stephon Void wrote poems to help cope with his father’s terminal cancer diagnosis, as well as the cradle United Methodist's own chronic health concerns. The collection has been published in a book titled "A Healing Journey."
Guest: Stephon Void
- Void is a member of New Covenant UMC in Bowman, S.C.
- Purchase Void's book, "A Healing Journey" online at the South Carolina Advocate Bookstore.
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This episode posted on July 21, 2023.
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"Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust withing Faith Communities" is a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by buildiing on its trusted policies and procedures. To learn more, go to SaferSanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433.
Crying out in grief. Thanking God for mercy. Asking for strength. Like a psalmist, Stephon Void used poetry to express how he felt as he navigated his father’s terminal cancer diagnosis, as well as his own chronic health concerns. Stephon’s new book, “A Healing Journey,” chronicles the cradle United Methodist’s path that eventually brought him to a place of peace. .
Crystal Caviness, host: Stephon, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.”
Stephon Void, guest: Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to be here.
Crystal: I'm excited to talk to you today. You are an author, you are a certified lay servant at the church where you were born and raised, New Covenant United Methodist Church in Bowman, South Carolina. You're a staff member at Claflin University where you got your undergrad, your master’s, you're now on staff there. And we're going to talk to you about this book that has recently been released, a collection of poetry, which, in your description really helped you through a healing time, helped you heal through a really difficult time. So we're going to, we're going to talk about that, but to get started, can you tell me a little bit about? You shared with me before we started recording that you're a cradle United Methodist, born and raised at New Covenant. Tell me about growing up in that church.
Stephon: Well, New Covenant used to be St. Michael. We joined with another church back in 1997, but it's been my home ever since I can remember. My mom was Baptist, but before I was born, she joined my dad at New Covenant United Methodist Church. It's in a small town, but we have a big presence and we do a lot of outreach and a lot of help in the community. And we have an active late servant ministry. We have active youth ministry and our pastor is Reverend Sherry White and she's been with us for three years. It's been a pleasure being at New Covenant. I think I am who I am because of this church and I'm very grateful for being there.
Crystal: Well, that's exciting to hear that you had such a formative experience in your church and how you're now serving others because of that foundation.
Crystal: So you're at Claflin University as a staff member. Claflin was founded in 1869 as a historically Black university affiliated with The United Methodist Church. Very historic and important in education, particularly for Black Americans. But what interests me about you being on staff at Claflin is that you are a nuclear magnetic resonance technician. <Laugh>. Oh my goodness. Stephon, what is that?
Stephon: It's like an MRI, but it's for chemicals. It is a magnet. It's a superconducting magnet. It has miles of copper wire, inside of that or is a chamber of liquid nitrogen to keep the copper cold. And then that chamber is in another chamber that has liquid, well, has liquid helium, then liquid nitrogen. It keeps the copper core from not melting. And to keep it at a superconductive magnet a hundred percent of the time, we use it to look at molecular interactions between carbon molecules and hydrogen molecules and other molecules to help us to study both metabolomic DNA research, small molecule research for organic containing compounds. So Claflin has this machine since 2009. And from shape or form I've been helping the facility with that ever since it was here on campus. So it's a great jewel.
Crystal : Man. It sounds like it. And your master's is in biotechnology? I believe so, yeah. Is this an part of the healthcare industry? Is that, is it, tell me how that is used.
Stephon: It is part of everything really. It could be used for healthcare, for drug discovery to understanding how our body works through metabolomics. And it also could be used for environmental science. USDA partners with us and looking at how to make watermelon more productive using N M R. We also use it for thin film research, superconductivity for different types of, it just, it, it is limit is what N M R can do for a biologist or a biochemist. And it is a great tool to have here at an HBCU. We're the only HBCU I could think of that has a superconductive magnet and we're like the only undergrad institution in the state of South Carolina to have a high field superconductive magnet at this capacity. Everyone else has a smaller magnet, but College Marine Laboratory down in Charleston and M u f feet down in Charleston have larger magnets. So we're lucky the top three 40 guys of the magnet. Yeah.
Crystal: Wow. That's something you're really proud of to be a part of that, that team. Yeah. Yeah. That's really interesting. Well, we can talk to you today about being an, an author, a poet. You have published, this is your second book. Yeah. The title of it is “A Healing Journey: Poems of Faith, Healing, Recovery, and Coping with Grief.” Can you talk just a little bit about your journey, your health, your personal healthcare journey? And then also as a caretaker for your dad.
Stephon: Yeah. I was born prematurely. Then they found out that my internal organs were reversed. So everything I was supposed to be on the right is on the left. Everything is on the left, is on the right. And they thought that's all I had. But I always had sinus infections and ear infections and lung infections. They couldn't figure out why. In about middle school, one of my ENT doctors of all specialists figured out that I had Kartagener Syndrome. It's a rare form of another rare disease called Primary Minister dyskinesia. So what that is, is the cilia in your sinuses, in your ears, and in your lungs, and also your gamma cells. They don't fluctuate normally. They barely move. So you retain all of the mucus and all of the dust and stuff that you had, you know, breathing in throughout the day. So you have to have a concussion vest, different types of medications to help you get infections.
And when you do get infections, you have to have IV medications sometimes and sometimes you don't. And then with my dad, he was diagnosed with small cell squamous cancer back in 2001, and he started chemotherapy in 2022, after a month long being in the hospital in November, 2021. And then he started chemo and he had complications and unfortunately he passed away a few days before his 74th birthday. So during that time I was taking him to chemo, helping him get to his appointments at the VA, his appointments in Greenville, South Carolina, his appointments down in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, to make sure that got all the cancer out, healing up for that, helping him with his feeding tube and helping him, you know, just getting back to normal life. And he just really enjoyed my first book so much. I said, well, this would be a gift for him to write the second book. And fortunately it turned into something else, what, what it is right now. So me and my mom were very involved in making sure that he was taken care of and make sure that he had everything he needed. And his, this immune system just couldn't take the chemo or radiation anymore. And the stresses of life. And he unfortunately passed away with complications of it.
Crystal : Well, I'm sorry that happened for you and your family. You know, as I was reading through the books, Stephon, it read like a little bit like a journal. I kind of felt like it was you journaling about your experiences. Sometimes it read like the book of Psalms honestly. You know, you were in your despai, just crying out to God. So I have a couple questions about the poetry. Yeah. How did you choose poetry as a means to kind of channel some of these emotions that you were having and these experiences that you were going through?
Stephon: Well, I got introduced to writing poetry back in college, but I stopped doing it. And around right before Covid, about 2017-18 Africana in the Discipleship Ministries had a writing competition. And my former pastor, Reverend Janice Frederick Watts, who's retired now, encouraged me to write subject board. And I didn't want to do it, but she said, you going to do this? And I wrote it and Dr. Sophia Busa and her team selected me to be part of Africana. And I started that writing poetry around that time. And I chose poetry because it's, it's like, it's like short stories or like short mini sermons that I'll have to spend all this time writing, trying to figure out how I want to get something written down. And it's intimate, it's short, sweet. And you get to have the whole feeling for beginning, middle of the end. And I felt like I wanted to do it in that way.
And actually I'm holding my phone. Majority of the poems were written on my phone while I was in waiting rooms, waiting on my dad or going to my appointments, or I couldn't sleep that night. I just grabbed the phone and what I was feeling or whatever the Spirit led me to write, I wrote. But I'm very thankful for the mentors I had at a Africana to help me understand how to put my emotions down on paper. And my writing kind of evolved from there. I always told people that I'm a scientist first. I'm not a trained writer, you know, but I could just say that's God guided me to write these different things.
Crystal: So you were really kind of writing this in real time, it sounds like.
Stephon: Yeah, yeah. Like the first poem in the book, “Fist Bump.” I wrote that literally after he got carried back into the room to do his first surgery to remove the cancer out of his mouth. And then I just kept journaling it through. And then in the middle when things were kind of going good, I was just journaling all things that were going on with my faith at the time, on my health at the time. Just to just get the emotions out how things were going on in the Methodist Church at the time to decide if we were going to stay or where we were going to leave and all those different things. I just wrote it down on paper, well, on notes, <laugh>. But that's how I did it. I just trusted God and guide me with the words of what He wanted me to say at the time.
Crystal: Did you go back now and look at it and you kind of see, I mean, as I read it, I read like ebbs and flows. I mean, which is normal. That's real life.
Stephon: Yeah. No, yeah. Just ebbs and flows. I tried to well I always feeling at time that's what I wrote and whether it was happy, whether it was sad, whether it's just waiting to hear God to say something about what I'm going through. And just sitting there, just thinking about how sometimes you could all silence that there's nothing going on. It just, it just like definite in your mind like, God, I don't, I want you say it today. What is it that you want me to do in this moment? What is it I supposed to do with this being, dealing my own health issues and now helping my mom take care of my dad? How, how is this going to help me? So I'm just glad I was able to put it down in the book.
Crystal: Yes. When you decided you were going to publish this really in honor and memory of your dad, did it feel, did you feel vulnerable?
Stephon: I kind of did, but I also, I didn't because I just remembered how happy my dad was when I wrote my first book of poetry about social justice and faith and, and it came out and he came out the hospital and so he was able to be in the car with me going around to our neighbors and our cousins’ homes, passing out the book. It was like his welcome back party. He was so happy. I said, well if that made him happy, I know this is going to make him happy. I was like, and when he passed away, I said, okay, God, I see where this is going now I know that my story can help other people. We're going through the same thing. And there were times that I was taking a background, I was writing these poems. I was like, this is tough. But I realized that well, somebody else needs to see or hear these stories or just write it down. And I was just glad that I was able to get through it. And when Jessica, our editor for the book, gave it back to me to review and had to read over a couple times, you just, all the memories were coming back. But there was also joy knowing that this story is complete and I can move on to something else.
Crystal: Before we continue our conversation with Stephon, I'd like to tell you about Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities. This new and comprehensive resource continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on the trusted policies and procedures that have guided churches for more than 25 years. The resource contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement and abuse prevention plan in your church or organization. For Christians, resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus Christ. Safer Sanctuaries provides helps to do just that by framing this work as a life-giving community enhancing and proactive endeavor, it enables communities to be empowered and flourish as they develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. To learn more, go to SaferSanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433. Now let's continue our conversation with Stephon.
Crystal: What was happening to you personally, to your faith? I mean, you're going through, you know, really tough stuff in life. You're navigating your own health journey. You're taking care of your dad and then you're losing your dad. What was happening to your faith?
Stephon: During this time? My faith is really what kept me together during those tough times because in the background, I wish I did more about it. In the book, in the background, my mom got sick the week of the funeral and she missed the funeral. And the day of the funeral, my dad helped raise two cousins of mine, Ronald and Andre, they stay in New York. My, my aunt didn't want them to stay in New York during the summer. So my grandmother and my mom, my dad, my Aunt Esther, my uncle Charles all helped raise them. Andre had a stroke the day of the funeral. So I was sitting there on the front row really literally going through. I said, you know what? There's nothing else I could do except give God praise for the life of my father lived and everything that I've already been through.
Because I know that's the only thing that's going to get me through it. So if it wasn't for the prayers of others and my faith in God at the time, I don't think I was able to get through it. That was kind of like my Job moment. It's like I live for God, I die. I entered the world naked, I would leave the world. But I knew that if I could just hold onto my faith through all those tough times that I'll be able to make it through. Because if I didn't have my faith, I probably would've been in, in a deep depression or struck. I wouldn't be able to write the book because I wouldn't had strength to write it. So my faith is very important to how I got through it and I was glad they able to get it out because keeping it in would've been damaging to myself. So I felt like by writing it down on paper, it would've been, you know, or in a book, it helped me out.
Crystal : Yeah, you're right. I mean those were deep emotions and very raw emotions and reading the poetry, you know, that definitely comes across. You said earlier that you wanted to write the book hoping it would help others. What is that message that you're hoping others will glean from reading your poetry?
Stephon: That no matter what you go through in life, God is always with you. Whether it's the good or the bad, the ups or the downs, that God is there to comfort and keep you at that. Sometimes healing does mean passing away. Sometimes it means letting go of someone you love so they can finally get your soul could be at peace. And that was a tough lesson because I really thought, you know, he's on his last week of chemo, everything is going to be good. You know, last week of chemo, radiation, everything is going to be fine. And he got hit in the curve ball that he has sepsis. And I was like, well I pray for one form of healing and my dad got another form of healing. He's no longer suffering. He's, you know, he’s with God and he's free from all of the struggles that he went through and fighting to get his VA benefits and fighting to get the respect of being a Vietnam vet and all these different things that he went through. You know that by writing this book, it just lets you know that you can recover from grief. You can recover from whatever life throws at you because God is there to give you the what you need. You just have to trust in them through those tough times. Those are the times you that you rely on your faith when times get tough.
Crystal : What's next for you?
Stephon: I got an idea of, I haven't shared it with any, with Jessica (Brodie at the South Carolina Conference of The UMC) yet. I think about doing a devotional series with caretakers and how they can, you know, have like a 40-day journaling process. You know, I could, I haven't started writing it yet, but I think that's where I want to go next with this. Take a break from the poetry and actually do some devotional writing. I do write sermons where I do, you know, be a supply pastor as a, as a lay servant sometimes at my church. So I just feel like I could take this other part of my writing and put it down and just have like a 40-day journey with caretakers because they go through a lot. You know, there's a lot to be a caretaker because only are your family members going through something, you're also going through the same things with them.
And you're feeling like, am I doing enough? Am I, am I following the protocol that doctors give you or, you know, different things that you're going through. So I feel like, you know, that that's probably what I'll do next. And I also, I love to help teach for lay servants. So the next, you know, I'm also taking classes to teach lay servants and increase the ministry of the lay servant ministry in South Carolina. I think that's a very important part of my life. I've been doing it since I was 18, so it's like a part of me.
Crystal : Let's talk a minute to talk about the Lay Servant School, the Lay Servant ministry. This might be, this is opportunity to kind of give a plug for that <laugh>. And I think there, I do believe there are United Methodists out there that don't even know that this is this is something within all the conferences and is a way to serve. Can you just give a little commercial for the lay servants?
Stephon: Yeah. Lay Servant Ministries is an opportunity for laity to be involved in ministry outside of the local church and also in your local church. But it gives you an idea and a chance to explore your spiritual gifts through Lay Servant ministries. You don't have to be a pastor, you don't have to be in the pulpit. You could be out in the community serving, but it gives you the training, it gives you the tools that you need. It's only one weekend out of your time, you know, depends the course. And it's very beneficial. You can take what you learn, take it back to your local congregations. I'm part of the Orangeburg District of Lay Servant Ministries and it's been a blessing to me to be able to share what I learned there and give it back to my local congregation. And they've been able to grow cause of that.
Crystal: You've been a Lay Servant since you're 18. How long have you been a part of this?
Stephon: I'm 40. I just turned 40. I'm 40 years old, so I've been in it for a while. I became a certified when I was 21 when I was still in college. And I've been active ever since. At some point my way I've been keeping my, you know, you gotta go back every three years, take a course. So I've been pretty active with that and I was able to bless to give several sermons and to help out at different ministries in my church and in the community. So it's been a blessing to do those different things and go on the annual conference and, and learning about the global church and how general conference helps everyone. So it's a blessing to see how the United Methodist is a connectional ministry that not only affects your local church, but it also affects, affects the world.
Crystal :You mentioned earlier that New Covenant, while it's a small, I I think you said it's a small church, but it it's making a real impact in Bowman What are some of the things your church is doing?
Stephon: Well right now we are planning our Back to School Bash. We are partnering with local businesses to have an outdoor event for the kids to have face painting, sat races, TikTok competitions, some food, and they also give them a backpack full of supplies so they could be ready for their grade level from you with us early elementary to middle school or in high school. So they could have, and also we just did a health fair a couple of weeks ago talking about health disparities and prostate cancer, breast cancer, how to eat healthy. And we even did a zumba class with those who were there. Just to, just to name a few things. We're partnering with the local library. We're working on introducing, we have a new library involvement. So we introduced the students to our summer reading program. And right now as we speak, some of my members are going to a homeless shelter to donate toiletries and paper products so they can have to, to give out for the soup kitchen.
For those who are homeless in the Orangeburg County area. And it's in the city of Orangeburg. So through our pastoral leadership and great members in our church, we're able to do those different things. It a blessing to have it is a family church, but it's good to grow up with your cousins who also your neighbors and they're not be working together in the church and do different things and get to see, you know, and we partner with other churches because my pastor is part of the Ministry of Bowman. So the Baptist, the A.M.E., the non-denominational and Holiness, we come together and we work on projects throughout the community to help our children and the youth and the old, the older people and those who don't have a voice, we try to give 'em a voice to the ministries that we have.
Crystal : I love hearing how your church is making such an impact in the community and partnering with other faith communities to serve your neighbors. That's really exciting. And that's, you know, I believe that's our role as the church, you know, to be out in our community. Well before we finish up, where can folks get your book?
Stephon: You could get it on Amazon, just look up “Healing Journey,” look up my name Stephon Void. Or you could go to the South Carolina Advocate Press. And when you go there, you'll see my book and also 19 other publications that South Carolina Advocate Press has. There's a growing ministry that we are doing and it is also not only supports the authors, it also supports South Carolina Advocate Press. So we can continue to have the local newspaper for state of South Carolina for all United Methodist churches. The editor is Jessica Brodie. I know she's very excited to get this exposure, <laugh> and opportunity to share our books with all over the country and in the world about, you know, all of the books are different types of books and it's a good of a variety. We did our first children's book also this, this year. So that's a great opportunity.
Crystal: I know Jessica and I've worked with her for several years and all those folks at the South Carolina Conference Office are just doing amazing work. And this publishing arm is part of that important work for the church. So we're excited to and happy to be able to talk about it today. The last question, Stephon, that we ask all of our guests on “Get Your Spirit in Shape,” is how do you keep your own spirit in shape?
Stephon: Well, one way is writing. Other ways, I listen to podcasts like your podcast and others.
Crystal :Thank you.
Stephon: And I also like to listen to music. Music is like another love of mine. I sing in the choir. I also listen to a lot of gospel music, a lot of contemporary gospel worship music when I'm driving. And then sometimes I throw on some old school just to clear my mind for where I can get ready for the day. And one of the things I do almost every day where I commute to work is I pray I have a time to talk to God. I turn the radio off, excuse, might think I'm crazy cause I'm, you can see my mouth moving while I'm in the car, but I talk to God about what I’m going through that day, or what I want to accomplish that day. I can have a connection with Him throughout the day. So those are some things that I do. And also I do video journals on TikTok to help, you know, get my spirit in shape. And the last thing I do when I feel like stress gets too much, I can also talk to a counselor because I think that's also important to your spiritual journey is to also have a, a good mental health journey as well to make sure that your mind, body, and soul is in tune. You can't be at service to anyone if those things are out of whack. So those are things that I do to keep myself balanced.
Crystal: Thank you for mentioning that. It’s so important that we not ignore any piece of the part, you know, the wholeness that we are. So yes. I appreciate you pointing that out, that our mental health is just as important as our physical health, our spiritual health is just as important as our physical health. Thank you, Stephon, for being a guest on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” and for sharing your journey in such a vulnerable and real way for other people. It definitely is encouraging and is inspiring and I just thank you for sharing that gift with others.
Stephon: All right. I'm thankful for the opportunity and I hope this book helped a lot of people.
That was Stephon Void, a cradle United Methodist who shared about his new book of poetry that he says has helped him on his healing journey through grief. To learn more about Stephon, go to umc.org/podcast and look for this episode where you will find helpful links and a transcript of our conversation. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me at a special email address just for “Get Your Spirit in Shape” listeners, [email protected].
If you enjoyed today’s episode, we invite you to leave a review on the podcast platform where you listen.
Thank you so much for joining us for “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I’m Crystal Caviness and I look forward to the next time that we are together.
Today's "Get Your Spirit in Shape" episode was sponsored by a new resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries titled "Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities." This comprehensive resource continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedues. This resource contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age-level specific guidance and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update and implement an abuse prevention plan. To learn more, go to SaferSanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433.